On a July midday in 2014, the eyes of the world were on Yorkshire and the county didn’t disappoint.
More accurately, the eyes of world cycling fans were on Yorkshire – and it was grand.
Much has changed in the intervening years, both on a regional and global scale, but bike racing has endured and represents opportunity far beyond the obvious.
Whilst the 2014 Grand Départ of the Tour de France put Yorkshire firmly on the map, the UCI Road World Championships is a different beast altogether.
Held over more than a week, with competitors representing their nations as opposed to their trade teams, the brand opportunity for both Yorkshire and for the businesses that inhabit the region is truly unfathomable. Now is the time for us all to recognise the ongoing benefits, which may never be quantifiable.
It is estimated that the Worlds will bring tens of thousands of additional visitors to Yorkshire.
That’s hotels that are full, café’s serving up rounds of toast and Yorkshire Tea, buses bustling with spectators and high-streets a hive of activity. Much has been made of the ‘lycra pound’ and it has been questioned how much benefit this actually brings.
Anecdotes of local chippies shutting down during race-day and no tangible increase in sales in the local café abound. It’s certainly true that some businesses won’t see an immediate benefit.
But we need to look at both the bigger picture and the longer term. Yorkshire – the place – will permeate into the worldwide conscience as part of these championships, in a way that being a small part of the Tour de France circus never could.
The Worlds will be broadcast to a truly worldwide audience – an estimated quarter of a billion people – over eight days.
Media attention will be sustained, rather than transient in its nature as was the case with the Tour.
That focus on Yorkshire – our countryside, our ability to put on an event of such international significance, our famous hospitality, will stretch into the global conscience for years to come.
The mere mention of ‘Yorkshire’ on the German nightly news will peak interest and sow the seeds for future visits; for business trips; and for investment. These championships will signal to the world that Yorkshire is great, and it’s open for business.
From a communications perspective, generating a strong sense of place and identity is crucial to realising wider benefits.
Showing Yorkshire in all its glory – the people and the places – will speak volumes about the region and benefit business if the opportunity is embraced. When we talk about placemaking, we cannot look at things in isolation. A clear and consistent narrative has to span every element of what a region has to offer. It has to speak for residents, businesses and civic leaders alike.
In truth, attributing ‘value’ to an event of this magnitude is an unenviable task.
News came last week that a ‘big-four’ accountancy firm will be responsible for quantifying this, both for Harrogate and for the wider Yorkshire region. It’ll certainly be interesting to see their methodology, as history would suggest quite conservative measures being employed, just looking at direct benefits such as hotels and immediate visitors. The true benefits could – and should, last for the next decade.
The report into last year’s hosts, the Innsbruck and Tyrol region of Austria, claimed an immediate E40m spike in GDP. Yorkshire organisers are confidently predicting a bigger impact for our own tilt at the event.
Whilst some will argue that it will create ‘traffic chaos’ and ‘misery’ for local residents, we need to look at the bigger picture. We have the opportunity to show ourselves at our best to millions and create an unbreakable link in the minds of visitors, decision makers and investors.
The 2018 edition showcased the Austrian hosts to a TV audience of 250 million viewers in 100 countries. That’s promotion that money can’t buy – and firms should embrace this moment in the spotlight.